Black Belt Mind — Notes From the Front Lines of COVID-19

April 3rd

I leave Mouche at home with DD so that I can shop for groceries. Her Friday classes are mostly asynchronous, so she can help me with Mouche. DH doesn’t want our kids (particularly Mouche, who compulsively picks up every item across his path) to go into stores, and we’ve been taking turns shopping. Online shopping is impossible as all the slots appear to be chronically full.

I’m shopping for my parents, my aunt, and my family. For the first time in 3 weeks, each of us is inordinately fussy about getting exactly what we want. As the pandemic worsens, we cling to small comforts such as our favourite deodorant or, in my case, a treasured vegan chocolate treat. I don my mask, which has been sitting and off gassing for a few days, ever since my last expedition. Experiencing a low hum of anxiety, I make stops at three different stores. I manage to buy everyone what they want, including sugar-free organic cranberries for a relative. My favourite chocolate treat, however, is sold out.

I pick up Mouche and we make the drive to deliver groceries. My mom suggests that together we walk into a ravine by her house, while staying far apart. Mouche scoots, I jog beside him, and my mom power walks several metres behind us. Once, Mouche gets too close to her and I ask him to step away.

We head for a field we’ve visited twice in the last week. We’ve never seen more than a handful of people here. Today it’s deserted.

“You’re not allowed to go there,” my mom says.

“Really? There’s no one here.”

I venture into the field, Mouche behind me. Near a picnic bench is a Parks Canada COVID-19 sign, warning us that all playgrounds, etc., have been closed due to COVID-19. The signs are so common that Mouche has taken to pointing them out whenever he sees them; he can now read the word “coronavirus.” Recently, when I tried to tell him about the “big germ”, he corrected me in an indignant tone: “it’s not the big germ, it’s the coronavirus!”

I don’t know what to do. I can’t imagine how being in an empty field could possibly constitute breaking the social isolation rule. I feel as though I’m constantly weighing common sense against rapidly-changing regulations.

I turn to Mouche. “Should we go throw sticks in the river and watch them float?”

He puts down his scooter. “Let’s play soccer!”

“I’m worried that the police are going to get mad at us for playing soccer,” I tell him.

He picks up his scooter again. “Let’s go throw sticks in the river.”

On our way home, we drop off groceries for my aunt, who uses a walker because of a recent hip replacement. I debate carrying her groceries up to her apartment, but I know I shouldn’t risk being in an elevator, especially with Mouche (who can’t resist touching elevator buttons), if I can help it. I also don’t want to run the risk of contaminating her. My aunt makes the trek downstairs, and I leave a bag for her on a bench outside her building. As Mouche and I pull away, I watch as she slowly picks up the bag and places it in her walker’s basket.

DH comes home early. The E.R. has been quiet, save for a handful of COVID-19 patients. Traffic is sparse: DH tells me he hasn’t seen an accident victim in weeks, a situation unheard of before the pandemic. Others are avoiding the E.R. as much as possible, choosing to consult their doctors by telephone or online communications.

When I tell him about my failure to find my chocolate baked good, my indefatigable DH goes online and orders a package of 6, directly from the manufacturer.

April 4th

We take our weekly hike outside the city. During a three-hour hike, we see a total of five people. The paths are more than wide enough to accommodate all of us and we slide by each other at a safe distance.

Mouche yells for the first 40 minutes of the hike. DH tries to show him how to count the rings on a felled tree trunk; Mouche slips and scratches his knee. It takes fifteen minutes to console him.

“Let’s go home,” says DH.

There’s a chorus of agreement from the kids.

“I wanna go home,” Mouche says, through tears.

“What the heck would we do at home?” I ask.

Eventually, DD takes Mouche’s hand and calms him down by telling him stories. We walk under a densely-woven canopy and filtered light, our boots making sucking sounds as we pull up the mud. Birds call out among the trees.

I’m starting to read reports, mostly from NYC, that health officials are recommending that no-one leave the cities, for fear of spreading the virus to rural communities. I begin to worry that we shouldn’t be hiking. But we’re not stopping anywhere along the way, and we rarely encounter people during our hikes.

Later I read that York region, north of Toronto, has closed their hiking trails. I’m furious – I don’t see the sense in closing largely deserted trails. I fear that our public spaces will diminish further, our freedoms increasingly curtailed.

An E.R. doctor friend posts on FB that the shipment of masks they were expecting at his hospital will not be delivered after all. For the hundredth time, I ask DH if he and his colleagues have sufficient masks. “That’s all everyone is talking about,” he says.

April 5th

Today DH planned on taking the kids for a bike ride. Normally we keep our bikes locked up on our porch, and we had assumed that they were all accounted for. But when we went to get our middle son’s bike, we couldn’t find it. With our house under construction, many of our possessions have been scattered about, in various locations. After spending an hour searching, including calling relatives to see if we had stashed the bike with them, we were forced to conclude that it had been stolen.

We discuss buying a new bike, contemplate our diminishing funds. Since the pandemic (DH gets paid mostly on a fee-for-service model, and people have stopped visiting emergency rooms) DH’s salary has dropped, even as he works under worsening conditions. We put off buying a bike. Demoralized, DH takes the boys for a drive and a scoot so I can write.

Black Belt of the Mind or Notes From The Front Line of COVID-19

Sunday February 23rd

My husband, an emergency doctor whose work place is preparing for COVID-19, tells me that we may want to stock up on essential supplies. “I’m not afraid of the virus,” he says. “I’m afraid of people panicking.”

In the end he’s the one who does the shopping, as I’m tied up with our three kids. He texts me that the grocery stores are packed. He returns with enough legumes, rice, eggs, and milk to last us two to three weeks. He orders a normal (for a family of five) supply of toilet paper from Amazon. We don’t want to over shop – we just want to have a buffer.

I text my best friend, telling her to stock up. She’s a psychologist who lives in New York with her two children; her physician husband, an infectious disease specialist, works long hours. His hours are about to get longer, and I don’t want her to get stuck. I send her a list that my husband and I have created. “But he forgot to include tampons,” I text.

I call my parents and leave a message, telling them to let me know if they want us to buy them groceries. My father, who was a child living in Normandy during the Second World War, remembers long weeks of privation. “There was never enough soap,” he says, “nor enough food.” Once, the neighbours dug up a recently deceased horse and cooked it. When I was a child, my father always stocked the pantry with dozens of bars of soap. I’m not surprised when my mother calls me back and reports that they already have enough supplies to last them several weeks.

Wednesday February 26th

My husband advises me to cancel a long-awaited girls’ weekend in Washington with my best friend. “You don’t want to stuck with a bunch of people in a confined space right now,” he says. This trip took weeks of planning, especially on the part of my friend, who works in an American psychiatric hospital and only gets one day off a week and who, because she has just started to work in this hospital, has no extended time off. Reluctantly, I cancel my trip and inform my friend. She texts me that it makes sense, particularly because, she writes “your husband isn’t an alarmist.”

My parents are scheduled to fly to France mid-April to visit my grandmother, who has just moved into a retirement home, and plan to combine the visit with a French river cruise. A few weeks before, my father, who’s eighty years old, flew to France to be with my grandmother, who had taken ill. Around the world, borders were starting to close. For days I worried about him getting home. Then I worried about him being cooped up in a plane. Finally, after several weeks, he made it home, healthy. “Nobody was wearing a mask on the plane,” he tells me. “Not the flight attendants, nor the passengers.”

Now my parents are planning to leave again. I call my mom to ask her to cancel their trip. “It’s a cruise,” I tell her. “That’s the worst possible scenario. Have you been following the news?”

My mom is in a chronic state of exhaustion caring for my sister, who has special needs. Although my sister lives in a group home, she needs constant input and care-taking from my mom. My mom refuses to cancel the cruise. She adds that she still has time to change her mind. “I really need this,” she says.

Tuesday March 10th

We’ve been aware of COVID-19 for a while now, but we’re not yet taking it seriously. I go about my day. My daughter is on March break, so we take the opportunity to shop for her grade eight graduation dress. My husband is on a day shift at one of the three hospitals where he works, so I text him photos of our daughter, whom I barely recognize in her slick, semi-formal dresses.

“She looks happier in option 1,” he texts. “But looks great in both.”

When I ask my husband what time he’ll be finished work, he texts me that he’ll be late. “Lab here is broken.”

Turns out that someone pulled a fire alarm and the sprinklers went off. Lab work is delayed.

“Argh,” I reply, and send him a grinning smiley face. “Kind of funny though.”

My husband send another text: “That + COVID = very bad.”